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The Martinville Area of Lower Trinity

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by Margaret Wooden

(First published in the Willow Creek - China Flat Museum's quarterly, "Footprints".)

A stretch of river that many present day rafters won't try was navigated in 1875. Two men, Pinder Frances "Frank" Bussell and a Mr. Guinn, built a boat and sailed, most likely pushed and carried, it up the Trinity River from the mouth of New River to Cedar Flat. It took them ten days to make the trip. Why did they try such a feat? They may not have realized the number of falls in that stretch of river, or maybe they were looking for a new route over which to transport supplies. Most likely, they were prospecting. They left their boat at Cedar Flat and walked home. Time involved in the return trip - one day.

Bussell was partner with John Hailstone in a hydraulic mining venture at Martinville, now known as the Trinity Village Subdivision in the Lower Trinity area. In earlier years, 1867, he had been in the sawmill business at Big Bar with partner Simonds.

The Martinville area had been mined along the banks for years, but no extensive, large-scale mining had been done. Whether Bussell and Hailstone were the first to open the large hydraulic operation is not known at this time, but these two men, with their large families, were living there at least five years prior to 1881 when they sold their mine to some New York capitalists. Bussell moved to China Flat in Humboldt County, and purchased the Clover Flat Mine. Hailstone stayed in the Burnt Ranch area.

The new owners had a grand scheme, which was to import New River water to the Martinville claims. They would do this by first constructing a sawmill at Hoboken Flat, hire men to saw lumber, dig a large ditch and construct a flume from the sawn lumber and import this water to their mine. About a mile of ditch was dug before the business agent, who went to Weaverville on business, didn't come back with the payroll which left the men destitute and out of work. This non-payment of wages plus a large freshet that wiped out the steam-powered sawmill put an end to this grand idea. Such were the days of mine promoters. Maybe someday, the boiler from the sawmill will unearth itself in New River after high waters have scoured gravel down to its level. Due to lack of water, the mine was worked with water from Hawkins Creek and ground-sluicing was carried on along the banks with water saved in reservoirs.

The other side of the Trinity River, now most generally called Hawkins Bar, was in those days called Pony Bar. The Gray family, Mr. and Mrs. David Gray, their sons William and David and daughter, Blanche, lived on a beautifully improved small ranch at Gray's Flat upriver from Pony Bar. Here they farmed, mined and kept a stopping place for travelers. The older Gray started carrying mail in to Coeur and New River City in 1885. His contract continued for several years. This mail route was from Burnt Ranch and was continued until the early 1900s by his son William. At Pony Bar the Grays had several mines and were active miners. They had a small water-powered sawmill on Pony Bar Creek and sawed flume lumber for their mines along the river.

The George Irving family were inhabitants of the high country around Coeur and mined a quartz ledge called the Hidden Treasure Mine. Irving discovered this outcrop in 1888 and mined it extensively for several years. He arrived in Trinity County in the 1886 or 1887, was a native of New Brunswick and was a naturalized citizen. He and his wife, Catherine, a native of Dublin, Ireland, raised a large family and were settled in the Martinville area by late1893. The Wallen Ranch is still owned by members of this pioneer Irving family.

Jeremiah "Jere" Smith purchased the Hawkins Bar Placer, Hawkins Bar Hydraulic Placer and the Martinville Placer, totaling about three hundred and forty acres, at a sheriff's sale in 1885 after the previous owners had let the operation go. He commented in March 1907 that the weather was cold and that his fruit trees were going to have a hard time producing. The mail carrier had come through with the news that there were three feet of snow on the summit between Burnt Ranch and the South Fork and three feet at Denny (Old Denny).

Smith had access to a water-powered sawmill on Hawkins Creek that made lumber for flumes and buildings. When he first moved onto the place, there were probably mine workers' cabins available, left over from the previous operation. He was a farmer at heart and developed his property into a beautiful agricultural area. He had three orchards with a total of two hundred and fifty trees, hay fields, pasture, a large garden spot and a small vineyard. By 1907 he had a young man, Jim Patterson, working for him. This same man later purchased the Douglas Ranch at the end of what is now Patterson Road in Willow Creek. Smith's establishment was known for hospitality and could be counted on for a meal and overnight lodging. He boarded trail crews and in 1902 boarded a bridge crew that was building the first bridge, a mule bridge, spanning the Trinity River at Hawkins Bar.

Jere lived in a two-room cabin. One room he used for sleeping and the other held his small store. The main building was where the traveling public was entertained, fed, and stayed overnight, with the men utilizing the large upstairs room for sleeping, while women were put up in the downstairs bedrooms. This home was located about where the Hess house stands today. The "backyard facility" was located a convenient distance away and was used by all. It is not known whether it was a one or two-holer.

Smith and Patterson had their hands full with farm activity. From plowing and seeding grain, to pruning, raising cattle and hogs and preserving food for winter. There was firewood to cut, split and haul, work on the trail and fence building, which included falling a tree that had straight grain suitable for splitting pickets. Their cattle ranged all the way to Grove's Prairie, working their way down to the ranch during winter. In the spring, when the grass began to grow, the stock would work their way back up the mountain which meant taking salt to the cattle and checking on their condition.

Pack trains didn't travel in winter into the New River country because of snow and dangerous trail conditions, but during the rest of the year the trail became dusty with the beat of many feet of both man and beast. Miners, mine promoters, mail carriers and families traveling up and down this main trail into the booming mine country kept Smith and his partner busy preparing food for the travelers and making sure the animals had a place to stay with plenty of feed. With all this activity going on, it's a wonder these two hardy men got as much ranch work done as they did.

Jere Smith died mid-winter of 1921 and was buried temporarily on his ranch in a coffin he had made of lumber sawn in the water-powered sawmill on Hawkins Creek. In the spring, the Brizard family moved him to Arcata where they re-interred him next to their plot as he had previously directed them to do. He was a friend and contemporary of A. Brizard and a special friend of Mr. and Mrs. Brousse Brizard. Smith left his ranch to Mrs. Eleanore Brizard and his other personal items to his two sisters in Pennsylvania. The end of an era had come. Roads were providing access to an isolated part of Humboldt and Trinity counties. Mining was still practiced by a few, but the large operations had ceased for as much gold as was profitable had already been extracted from the ground. Smith had worked hard, provided employment for others, kept a well known stopping place where he fed and entertained guests and sold supplies from his small store, which had been stocked by the Brizard pack train. He was known far and wide as a gentleman. What better way for mankind to remember a pioneer of our country?

Jere Smith diary 1907-08
Trinity 1976
Trinity Journal 7/24/1897
Trinity County Biographical card file
Trinity County Historical Society reference library
Brousse Brizard recollections
Gay Berrien